An open letter to custom builders.
This is more of a statement then anything. But I have never ever ordered anything custom and got it when it was promised. I generally take a lax approach to Custom built things because I don't want to antagonize the manufacturer, However I feel this has been taken advantage of by a number of builders. I have been given excuses time and time again as to why things are not completed, but I see builds being completed from orders made after my own and other evidence of dishonesty.
Currently I am waiting on two sets of custom pickups by an un-named custom builder based on this forum. Given a build time of 4-6 weeks, still waiting a year later. I have been nice up to a point but I have lost patience. The builder had some personal issues, but no longer and he has openly stated that he is building new orders ahead of mine and is calling me unreasonable.
I have a bass being made by a builder on another forum at a cut price. It was ordered this time last year and was supposed to be finished by Easter/April time. I have been asking for a proper honest update for the last month but with no reply.
I have a bass being built by another builder not based on any forum, ordered a year ago. It seems to be finally getting built, but I had to be persistent in my calls and is the only builder I know in person.
Even though waiting for a custom bass for 6 months to a year is not considered a long wait by many people, I do expect builders to stick to the build times given and not to take advantage of my good cheer. When I start chasing up on orders more insistently via Email typically they say nothing. And when I feel I have no choice but to vent on a public forum, they try to go damage control and make me look unreasonable.
All I ask from these custom builders is absoloute honesty in their communications with me and what they are working on. Constant lies catch up with you at some point and just because I may only know you through the internet, does not give you the right to ignore me more then any other customer.
That is all.
Custom builder are like most people who work for themselves, they don't work well with others.
You should ask them if they have a first come first served policy and if not take your business elsewhere.
I know a Custom builder who will get it done when he says he will. Google KXK guitars. I know him personally.
I just ask for honesty from the start to finish. If I was given a valid reason as to why someone elses later order was built ahead of mine then I would be fine with it. The issues I have with these custom builders are not my fault and I should not be held to fault for their mistakes, dishonesty or lack of communication.
I always ask for a generous estimate with a few months tacked on the end for build times. Yet because of my generosity with my expectations in the past, builds are put back constantly and only started on the generous deadline given, rather then finished. Hence why I am very irate about the situations I am in.
The biggest problem for at least one of them, is that the amount of lies and excuses they have made is gotten so big, they cant possibly consider just telling the truth because of the amount of customers who will realize they have been lied to and may destroy his business through even more bad press. Who's fault is that? Why the builders of course. One small lie, gets bigger and bigger, you start telling more and more people that same lie... You see where I am going here?
Funny how that is possible in an industry where reputation is everything. Or is it that they categorize clients into "good ones: be nice to them" and "bad ones: just play with their patience" ?
One would think that a certain luthier would run out of business soon if treating customers badly...
The worst experience I've ever had involved someone who was (and still is) regarded as probably the finest luthier in my area. Three weeks past promised date to do a simple drop fill, then when I got the bass back, the job still wasn't performed to the specs agreed upon. Kept my bass over a month with no communication or responses. An email or call to let me know would have eased my concern at least. It seems to be a VERY common trait in this profession.
Wow it is tales like that that harm builders. Sorry that has been your experience.
With me it's been over 5 months since I've seen pictures of any progress but plenty of other people's
Had some of that on my first (and possibly last) custom order. Inicialy, build wasn't late too much (abouth a month), but truss rods were not installed properly, so action was way off. It took more than 7 months for builder to admit that it was not "wood settling" or "season change", and than it took another month and a half for him to fix it. Working on my bass lasted for less than a week, the rest of that time, bass just sat around his workshop :-(
My best advice to people ordering custom builds would be to carefully pick builder, make detailed time plan and insist on it, and define every important detail of the build. Most of undefined or "gray area" has 50-50 chance of coming out wrong.
As for me, I have decided to stay inside mass production instruments as long as I can.
Sorry to hear of your problems. I'm not sure how custom your guys are going. My experience with a custom builds is limited, but I have been treated with the utmost respect by my builder of choice and his crew. It's not like they are building custom body shapes and necks and stuff for every order. I select from 3 existing body styles, but can choose wood, electronics, finish, stuff like that. Is that custom? I don't know. It is to me.
My first build was a "rush" job for a special occasion - and I'm a nobody. My 2nd was a "normal" build - maybe on the fast end of normal - and took about 8 weeks. Throughout both builds, I received regular communication and progress pictures. I am looking at getting a 3rd bass from this builder.
Sadly, my build wasn't too custom, builder has his model and allows some customisation, like top and fretboard wood, choice between couple of pickups and preamps and some other smaller variations. So, I figured things should go smooth.
Honest mistakes happen, but builders reputation truly come to test when they have to make things right. Thats when some live up to their good reputation, and some just try to talk their way out.
The shear response time on communications has turned me away from the idea of having a custom build done. I was already fairly mechanically and carpentry skilled so I elected to buy tools and teach myself to do all aspects of lutherie other than winding my own pickups. And what is up with people who are consistently knocking out say a Jazz bass copy for $1200, you contact them and say "I want that exact same instrument but a different shaped body" and the price doubles or triples?
It is true that many of us who work for/by ourselves do it specifically because we don't like the format of traditional employment. In my case I worked for others, punching clock literally or figuratively for first 22-23 years. Have been self-employed for last 13. Watch repair, sales, service along with various computer related "stuff".
Some customers do earn themselves a berth at the back of the line by being a major PITA. I had one cat recently who sent me 12 emails in one day and I wasn't even working on an item for him - I wrote him back and told him I had a 2 email a day limit I would answer, out of fairness to others who were trying to actively make a purchase decision. Had a guy from east coast, genuine multi-millionaire: things got to point I had to tell him if he contacted me again I would be making a police report for harassment and stalking. But he was another extreme case, figured he could tap into my brain for a few hours a day just for fun, then never bought anything THAT special. I (sarcasm here) just love a guy who eats 5 hours of my time to buy a $500 dollar item which maybe has $100 of profit for me. And at other end of spectrum I had a guy who simply paypaled me $14k with no questions.:hmm:
I'm not assuming the OP was being a pain, but unfortunately if you were the builder is probably enjoying squeezing your lemons. Haven't a clue how you retract yourself from that.
Final thought: for almost every transaction where you give some money up front the longer the time goes on the person who took your money is less inclined to finish the deal. It's like if you loan someone money - longer you let the debt hang out there the less likely you are of getting paid back. Money and good deeds seem to have the most value when freshest. And I'm not saying this is right - just seems to be human nature that people forget debts they should pay a lot quicker than they forget debts they are owed.
I hope the OP gets his bass soon. :(
Meant to have been finished over a month ago
This is why it's so important to have some form of written agreement when commissioning any custom work.
Something along the lines of:
Estimated total time. (E.g. Six months).
Payment schedule (E.g. initial payment of 500, then agreed continual payments at construction landmarks with evidence that it has been completed).
Very clear specifications from the buyer and agreements on all changes prior to any taking place if the builder feels it necessary.
A buyout clause if the work cannot be completed so that the buyer can get the instrument in an uncompleted state and commission another luthier to complete.
Agreed methods/frequency of contact. The two email limit is a really good idea. Obviously this can be waived if something urgent comes up but for 'routine' contact, it's always a good idea to establish the boundaries and make sure that everything is clear and recordable.
A few years ago, my Dad commissioned a model of a sailing ship to be built. Sadly, the maker went through health problems and a couple of years later, the model wasn't completed. Fortunately, they did have a payment schedule in place and everything was taken care of above board. Everybody came out disappointed but ultimately no harm was done.
It's important to have these schedules and agreements and to stick to them. Any deviation from either party has to be negotiated.
I've had this experience a few time with a local guitar shop. I brought in a bass to get a setup and have a pickup installed, they said that it would be 2 weeks because they were behind due to a post-xmas flood of repairs and setups. (it was late february) 2 weeks became 4, which became 8, which became 12. Finally I just told them I was going to pick it up and take it somewhere else. They had it wrapped up that weekend. I never got a polite apology or anything.. It was always "next on the bench" every 2 weeks when I'd call. I emailed them several times and never heard back; really left a bad taste in my mouth. Other than a couple of GCs they're the only shop in the DC area.
The internet strikes again, reading threads like this make it seem that every builder is a lying, shady, person who never delivers on time. Everyone is quick to point out their bad experiences when there are many more people that don't post that are absolutely satisfied with their custom instrumen, and builder.
I know it wasn't the OP's intention but by posting this thread it lumps all of us into a bad reputation of bad customer service and bad communication. Its simply not true and unfair.
This is a piss and moan thread (justified or not I have no idea). Just let them vent. They aren't turning the market with a forum thread. If you communicate well with your customers, and finish on time under budget (also known as under promise/ over deliver) then say so and be done with it. You may even pick up a customer or two if that's how you do business.
I have had 5 custom builds, with a 6th in progress.
Never had any problems or delays and no surprises regarding the agreed budget.
In fact I'm happy to name names :D
David King (www.kingbass.com) built me twin 5-string basses, fretted and fretless: a pleasure to deal with and the basses are amazing. David happened to be in Copenhagen when I got in touch with him and he visited me in Oslo to discuss the basses.
Biarnel (www.biarnel.com) built me a 6-string with GK-3. All on schedule, exactly as ordered. The bass developed a very slight problem with the fretboard that was fixed free of charge.
Gaetano Costanzo (www.myspace.com/gaetanocostanzo) built a body to be joined to a fretless status neck. Great guy, wonderful artisan. And he lives in wonderful Naples!
Alusonic (www.alusonic.com) made me an aluminum-bodied 5- string jazz: great bass and very unique.
Scott Smail of Grove Guitars (www.groveguitars.com) is building a Stingray-style body to be matched to a fretted 5-string status neck.
The Grove isn't finished yet, but Scott is right on schedule for my pickup in late October.
He's been a joy to deal with, very thorough, very scrupulous and the bass is coming out amazing. I get regular updates and he also puts pictures on his site (check out the Moosehead bass!)
Exept the Alusonic, I picked up all the basses personally and the luthiers were extremely nice people. I've actually visited Gaetano a few times just to hang out.
I think it helped that with all the builds I had an extremely clear idea of what I wanted... changes occurred during the builds, but nothing more than small details.
It varies. On the one hand, I have had no problem and quick results with several recent custom orders. (Manlius, Delano, LDS) On the other hand, I know a luthier and an amp repair shop nearby that I never send work to--they both do great work when/if they decide to do it. There's a 50% chance the work will never be completed, and I've never seen a job completed in less than a year, whether you are nice or not.
Custom work is always a matter of YMMV, but it varies more some places than others.
It says an awful lot to me that there are dozens of threads on here about satisfied customers of custom basses, custom builders contributing regularly and building on-time, and above expectation yet only a couple of threads with big issues.
It's like any other situation. The 'bad' situations are the exceptions and more 'noteworthy' in that respect. I personally have no need or want for a custom-built instrument but there are people on here that I wouldn't hesitate to order from if the finances and want ever arose.
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